There are various moments when the coronavirus pandemic first entered our consciousness. I was aware of the dreadful toll being paid by the Chinese and the Italians, but it still felt too distant, I say to my shame. But then, on March 11, the NBA suspended its season. I thought it might be a bit premature, but then the next day, the NHL followed suit. I have become a big hockey fan, and that was the one the really struck me. And oh my, what if the NFL delays or, as seems likely, cancels its season?
Cancellations and closings of all manner became a new way of life.
In some small way, I have enjoyed the relative peace and quiet that exists, for example, when I take my dog for a walk. For a moment, the introvert within me finds a sense of tranquility.
But the moment quickly passes.
I am reminded of the terrible hardships that have descended upon the world and upon my community. I think of people being cooped up in their homes. I think of people getting on each other’s nerves. I think of children whose schooling has been disrupted. I think of needed services that are largely unavailable. I think of people losing their jobs. I think of those for whom home is not a safe place.
Plus, there’s the constant annoyance of the continuous sanitizing of surfaces and avoidance of touching one’s face. And oh yes, the 20 second ritual of washing one’s hands. (Which is much easier if you have access to clean water.)
There is the overall aggravation of not being able to meet in person. It takes extra planning to get everyone set online. And imagine the irritation—I’m being euphemistic—of visits being curtailed or even banned. (I am a pastor, by the way.) Regarding worship services, preaching to people, even in real time on the internet, is a weak substitute for the give and take that fosters the joy, creativity, and power of the Holy Spirit. (Not to mention my often lame attempts at humor.)
My last sermon dealt with the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in chapter 37. “Can these bones live?” I asked some questions. What will come of our present exile, this new world we’ve been led to? Will fear win the day? Will hope win the day? I think of science fiction / horror movies in which a biological or environmental disaster emerges and turns people into savage beasts. But the Star Trek fan in me is encouraged by how the human race learns from past mistakes, past atrocities, and builds a new society of justice and peace—though not without its own problems, mind you!
Ezekiel’s vision is more expansive than what Star Trek offers, I must say. Our efforts alone do not suffice. “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (vv. 13-14a).
The coronavirus doesn’t get the final say.